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14-goal xG drop-off: Thiago is struggling to fit in at Liverpool

The xG doesn’t look good for Thiago right now. The Spaniard is struggling to find his place at Liverpool.

We haven’t seen anywhere near as much of Thiago as we would like. Injuries forced that situation, though, taking him out of the team for over two months.

But injuries elsewhere create another problem for Thiago – how does he fit in? There’s no easy answer, given Liverpool are changing game-to-game as they cover injury after injury.

Thiago is rarely playing with the same teammates and Liverpool struggle to show any kind of style. It’s difficult to do so without an even slightly settled side.

The stats show this, too. When it comes to xG, Thiago just isn’t the same player as he was last season.

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Expectations

Now, Thiago isn’t a goalscorer so we’re not talking about pure xG here. And to be clear, by xG we’re talking about ‘Expected goals’. It’s a stat that takes shots and rates the chance a goal should be scored.

A shot from 30 yards through traffic has a very low chance of going in – it might have an xG of 0.01. So to have an expected goal from them, you’d need to take that shot 100 times.

A shot from two yards with an open goal would mean an xG of 1. You’re expected to score.

You add up all shots and you have the overall xG for a player or team. Take the former shot 100 times, you have an xG of 1. Take the latter 100 times and you have an xG of 100.

Is it a perfect stat? Of course not – no stats are. But with context attached, you can learn how effective a player is.

So going back to Thiago, we can look at xGChain90 – which sounds more complex than it really is. It’s judging the expected goals that come from any move involving Thiago per game.

So perhaps he starts the move on the halfway line, spreading play to the full-back who then crosses for a goal. That ‘chain’ involved Thiago and the xG counts towards this.

Similarly, if he was the one to make the assist or the shot, it counts, too. Anything that involves Thiago in the move.

Lat season, Thiago’s xGChain90 was 1 (per Understat). So that means involving Thiago in your buildup should virtually guarantee you a goal. He’s clearly passing the ball into good areas and moves rarely break down when he’s involved.

That is an elite number. Kevin De Bruyne, undoubtedly the best midfielder in England, has an xGChain90 of 1 this season and he has 10 assists with 3 goals.

Lionel Messi had the same number last season when he scored 25 goals and assisted 20. Thiago, at his best, is in this group.

Thiago maintained this number through his last four seasons at Bayern Munich. He was a phenomenal playmaker there.

This year, though, Thiago’s figure has dropped down to 0.65 per 90. That’s a significant fall. Suddenly, playing through Thiago doesn’t guarantee you all that much.

Liverpool aren’t creating chances through his moves.

Over a 38-game season, an xGChain90 of 1 suggests 38 goals. 0.65 drops that number to 24. If a striker had that 14-goal drop-off, it would be deemed a disaster.

Photo by Paul Greenwood – CameraSport via Getty Images

So what does this tell us? Well, knowing what we know about the inconsistent line-ups and Thiago’s injuries, it tells us that there’s little cohesion between the Spaniard and Liverpool. Involving Thiago in your moves doesn’t bring about great chances right now.

He’s not the playmaker that he has been for the last four years, to sum up. It’s a role that necessitates chemistry with the team, though, and quite clearly, we’re not there yet.

This will be an interesting one to check back on, then. Players are returning from injury and we should see more settled teams going forward.

Hopefully, that will see Thiago’s influence finally surge through the side.

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